This is among the most amusing, vertiginous, insolent, outlandish, delirious films imaginable. And perhaps, as well, the freest that Ruiz has ever made. It’s the kind of project where he’s absolutely free in his actions, conceiving and taking control of the film’s totality; in the exercise of this paroxysmic energy he pushes the exercise of his boundless creative imagination to its zenith, unshackled in any respect by the dominant codes.
Here, the familiar features of Ruiz’s universe – parallel worlds, baroque uncertainties, telescoping of different times, co-presence of multiple spaces, deconstruction of characters, transgression of every parameter of classical narrative – are subject to an overflowing enthusiasm and gamesmanship, causing spectators to forget their usual reference points and drawing them into an intellectual and perceptual intoxication where there is no longer anything stable to hold onto.
But we must not conclude that the film proceeds from the pure arbitrariness of an unbridled imagination. Quite the contrary, and this is the first great paradox to be emphasised: nothing, here, is left to chance. The internal construction of the narrative follows a very strict logic; the totality is calculated on the basis of preordained constraints (a little like certain writing experiments of the Oulipo group) that govern its development.
So, at the outset, we have the template of a combinatory narrative attributed to Ramon Lulle, explicitly laid out in an incredible prologue. Nine narrative themes (in principle autonomous, heterogeneous) are posed as the raw material of this combinatory: the story of a theology student of the past, seized by doubt; a thief who gets his hands on a kleptomaniac mirror capable of making anything that it reflects disappear; the confusions of the owner of a painting that is blessed with magic powers; the quest for twenty-two lambs and a Maltese Cross which, once put together, allow one to live in several worlds at the same time; a religious debate bearing on the conflict between grace (or predestination) and free will; two pirate ghosts searching for a treasure that, in a previous life, they hid too well; a present-day student who discovers, on the Internet, a site that predicts his immediate future; two separated lovers who meet in their dreams; and a young Iberian Catholic from a past century finding out that he’s Jewish (and the bearer of a ‘hidden name’) at the very moment that his father is taken away from him.
From there, the entire combinatory consists of making these cellular narratives cross each other’s paths, whether two by two or three by three, and also consecutively – each of these telescopings engendering, almost automatically, a specific narrative (one which logically implies that the characters can double or reincarnate themselves, leap time frames, and belong in several places at once).
Putting it another way: if there is an element of the fantastique in Ruiz, it is not the negation (or the excess) of a rational system, but literally produced by that system; fantasy comes initially from the nine chosen themes but, beyond that, each sequence obeys inviolable constraints, which only serve to intensify the fantastic.